Sunday, 2 May 2010

May Day blues

Well I had intended writing a piece today about how beautiful Harty looks on a typical sunny May day but unfortunately as I begin to write this Sheppey is currently water-logged and cold. So lets take a trip along the Harty Road and dwell on a few of the places and occurrences from years ago. Apologies to those people that don't actually travel the road and therefore won't know it.

Prior to its closure in 1950 you might of been held up on the main road for a few minutes, a few hundred yards before the Harty Road turning, as the Sheppey Light Railway train crossed the road en-route from Leysdown to Queenborough. Tiny Harty Halt was alongside the road just there, although it was still a fair walk for anybody living out at Harty. Turning onto the Harty Road the journey took you to the crest of Capel Hill, originally known as Cable Hill, and the farm of the same name.
The view across the marshes from here is superb and like a lot of the area on and around Sheppey they were the sight of many plane crashes during the Second World War and subsequent recoveries by aviation archeaology groups. I remember in November 1979that one group dug down to the remains of a crashed German Dornier 17 bomber from 1940 here at Capel Hill Farm. The tail was located only 14 feet under the soil but as they continued to recover other parts of the plane a 250kg unexploded bomb was found in the wreckage and digging suspended until the RAF arrived to move and detonate the bomb. The Dornier incidentally, had been shot down at 4.15 pm on 20-8-40by two Hurricanes over Eastchurch. Three of the crew baled out and were captured, the fourth died in the crash.

Carrying on along the road, and just past the Raptor Viewing Mound, there is a short line of bushes going out into the field and here there stood a house which I believe was called White House. Opposite and a few yards from the road is the concrete base of one of Harty's three old wind pumps and used for supplying fresh drinking water - one has been recently re-instated alongside the Shellness track. Carrying on along the road a bit further you arrive at a tight bend in the road and at the quite large Elliots Farm. Only two old barns remain here now of any of the original buildings but the farm has minor connections to me because of family history. In 1861 a 10 yr old girl called Martha Thomas was employed here, at such a tender young age! as a Housemaid. Her parents lived further along the road somewhere in an old farm cottage. Nine years later she married into my family and became my Great Grandmother Martha.
Left of Elliots the track takes you down to an isolated farmhouse now known as Brewers but which previously was known as Longwood. It must of been a dodgy place to live at during the Battle Of Britain because at one stage, in an attempt to lure the German bombs away from nearby Eastchurch airfield, lines of fake airfield landing lights were placed in the fields near to Brewers. Some of the bomb craters still exist on the Swale NNR close by. Anyway back to Elliots and by turning right and up the tightly-hedged road you arrive at the first of two bends and this first one was the sight of a small dwelling known as Woodins, of which nothing remains. The second bend, which commands terrific views back across the Capel Fleet valley to Leysdown and Shellness, was also the sight of a dwelling known as Telegraph, possibly for connections to a means of signalling. The bushes there not only conceal some remains of the house's chimney stack but also some lilac and rose bushes, presumably from the garden. A few hundred yards further down the road, immediately before Mocketts Farm on the bend and where a footpath now takes you across the field, once stood Long Farm, home of the Orpin family. It was still there during my childhood and I remember the family also owning a sweet shop in Sheerness. At one stage during the First World War, a field alongside Long Farm was designated as an Emergency Landing Ground for the Royal Flying Corps but there is no record of it ever being used as such.
Nearby Mocketts Farm is another of Harty's few remaining larger and long-standing farmhouses and like Long Farm did, still stands on the crest of Harty Hills to give unrivalled views across most of Sheppey's countryside. On the bend of the road there, at the entrance to Mocketts and running down to the rear of the Ferry House Inn, there is a long square field that until the 1980's was a pear orchard, with another orchard close by and to the rear of Sayers Court, that ran down to the saltings. Seems starnge to think of orchards out there but its surprising to see the number of places that orchards were sited on Sheppey.

Moving on, and ignoring the fork in the road that takes you down past Park Farm, The Swaylings bungalow and to the Ferry House Inn, I'm going to go straight on, to end up at Harty Church. There, there are a small collection of older buildings, the church itself, standing next to Sayes Court, and on the other side of it, the recently pulled down remains of Harty School and a terrace of three old and surprisingly still occupied, farm cottages.
Harty Church was re-furbished in the 1870's at a time when most of Sheppey's churches were being improved and at the same time, because education standards were being up-graded, Harty School was also built. It was only a small school but would of had a ready made supply of children from the various farms and cottages dotted about Harty.
Sayes Court, which is currently lived in by one of the Burden Family who farm cattle across a lot of Sheppey, had at one time a quite impressive small moat at its rear, but not much of it is viewable these days. Interestingly also, in 1853 the house, or somewhere alongside, was used by a Messrs. Cooper as a factory, making clothing and bedding for immigrants, although its not clear if the immigrants actually lived on Harty.

And now as I finish this, it has been raining hard for several hours, a cold NE wind has sprung up, the view from my window is more typical of January than May and I'm really concerned about the plight of the many tiny plover chicks that must be very wet, cold and exposed out on the marshes in all this.


  1. Fascinating Derek. As a former resident from Teynham across the Swale, I know the area well but never knew its history.
    More please, when you feel inspired to pass on your knowledge of the area.

  2. I find your blog full of interest,I live in Sittingbourne and when I was healthier than of late I used to enjoy visit the marsh's and can recognise some of the places you refer to.
    I was an apprentice Engine Fitter at Sheerness dockyard in the late 50's so feel I have some connection with the island

  3. Countryfootsteps,

    Thank you for your support, I seem to be getting more responses to my blogs featuring historical matter than those on wildlife, which is fine by me. I worked in Sheerness Docks from 1972 to 2006 but obviously missed your era, although we still used a lot of the old dockyard buildings, such as the Electrical Fitting Shop and the Ship Fitting Shop.
    A website that you might enjoy is Down the LH side is an index of pages with several that will interest you and I especially reccomend - linkTrevspicsSheppey. Click on the photo of Sheerness Dockyard and enjoy all the photos behind it.